Anatomy of a Gesture

I'm in New York for some events that I may or may not be able to talk about. As a result I won't be attending an event in California that is clearly off the record.
Written by Steve Gillmor, Contributor

I'm in New York for some events that I may or may not be able to talk about. As a result I won't be attending an event in California that is clearly off the record. The good news is that I can talk freely about that event since I won't be there to not talk about what I hear or talk about. Yeah.

So here's what I'd be talking about if I were there. First, the fantastic news that Yahoo has bought Delicious for an undisclosed sum and business model. The news broke while we were recording the Gillmor Gang, and it punctuated a winding sideswipe of the Gestures Economy that I invented last week. Of course I say invented in order to send a gesture to the growing number of attention developers, VCs, and startups that attention is the beginning, not the end, of this conversation.

On the plane today I made notes on the talk I'm hoping to give at Syndicate on Wednesday. I hope to do this with Seth Goldstein via video, with AttentionTrust executive director Ed Batista on the ground in San Francisco. Danny Ayers sent me a link to an interesting draft about personalization and attention, and Alex Barnett continues podcasting, this time with Dick Hardt and Identity Godfather Kim Cameron of Microsoft. I also received an invitation to jump in to the growing Attention Economy page on Wikipedia, which I emphatically will not be doing. When we  first launched the AttentionTrust, an entry was promptly challenged and then voted off the island as promotional or something. Ask not what your wiki can do for you....

If I was at the off-the-record party I'd probably be talking about some of these threads, as well as the continued obfuscation by Dare Obasanjo, whose authority in the services space is unavoidably damaged by his new job. When Dare was ensconced in XMLland, his consistent opposition to reinventing the wheel earned him the respect of and considerable authority in the blogosphere. But now that he's manning the barricades in the MSN/Live campaign, his posts have taken on the tinge of marketware that the Bunny veers into from time to time.

But more telling is what Dare won't talk about, which reminds me of Greg Linden's early attacks on attention. Greg sent me a string of emails saying he didn't understand what I was trying to say. (To be fair, many people have said that, and it's starting up again about GestureBank too.) But when I asked him to give me a call so we could discuss it further, he never got back to me. Interestingly, he was quick to add a comment to Attensa's blog post about their recent Series B round implying that Attensa was nothing new. In my case, I got the feeling that Greg was interested in gleaning how close I was coming to his IP, or future plans. Dare's persistence in attacking attention as flouting the business models of the big clouds gives me a similar feeling, either that Dare's team has a version of attention that preserves vendor rather than user control, or that he feels tactically it's better not to respond to the direct question I've put to him.

It's timely to note that I'm describing what I think are gestures of lack of intent. In and of themselves they send signals of direction, resource allocation, political traction or lack of it, and so on. As Fred Wilson points out in a post I inadvertently suggested on the Gangcast may have come from Om Malik, the strategy of tying the insertion of a picture into the new Yahoo Skype-killer Messenger beta to Yahoo 360 or one other Yahoo service is a significant error, flouting loss of user control in an era of Web 2.0 Office mashupiana. What Dare seems to miss is the signal that ignoring root attention ownership by the user creates a gesture of profound disruption so ably demonstrated by the famous Doc Searls salute of a few days ago. Put another way, lack of attention does not equal lack of gesture.

An interesting side effect of an off the record event is that the rules encourage you to not talk to the people you're ostensibly invited to hob nob with. Instead, if I were there I'd likely be chatting with Chris Nolan or Om or Mike Arrington or insiders like Scoble or Jeremy or Jason (sorry, indirection) or looking for some engineering type who may not be hip to the ways of the blomedia. This game has actually penetrated the conference zeitgeist, where you posit the most interesting scenarios amongst yourselves and with competitors, then have someone ask the most Memeorandumish question of the target, who immediately denies it. Witness Eric Schmidt's decidedly un-Sherman-like denials of an Office service strategy. Who should we believe, you, or our own lying Gmail spellcheck?

Which is better/worse, a gesture of inattention, or inattention to gestures. The former may be merely insulting, or it may be a statement of ephemeral disappointment couched in deep respect. It reminds me of an old friend, the richest guy I knew until I moved out West, who would carefully arrange his body to present his ass to you at certain moments. I revelled when he did this to famous entertainers and Limelight lowlifes, and dreaded the times when he chose me as the object of his lack of attention. But even then it was still funny.

At the end of the Gillmor Gang, I asked for a quick sum-up from the Gangsters. Dana Gardner had to go shovel snow. Dan Farber hoped he would eventually understand what GestureBank was all about. Jon Udell's thought was that the show should have ended 10 minutes earlier. High praise indeed, as I took it to mean that the first hour and seven minutes were worth listening to. A nice gesture Jon. Even then still funny.

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